Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of Venus Optics LAOWA 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro Lens

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Venus Optics sent me an early pre-production copy of the Venus Optics LAOWA 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro, the world's first ultra-wide angle macro lens capable of magnification up to 1:1, and I have been dabbling with it in the past week to publish a first look for this one-of-its-kind lens. This lens is available for pre-order now and should be ready to ship by end of July 2015. Readers of this blog may use the discount code SGMACRO to get a 5% discount off the launch price of $479USD, inclusive of international shipping.

productphoto
Wide angle macro photography is a rarely explored genre of macro photography, largely due to the lack of readily available equipment or accessories to allow one to focus up close with a wide-angle lens. It is also a difficult beast to tame due to the short working distance. Composition and lighting can be very different from mainstream macro photography but once you get the hang of it, the resulting perspectives can be mind-blowing and very well worth it.

    Test Photos

    I took the lens out for a short morning walk, and managed a couple of keepers with good performance except for noticeable chromatic aberration. All photos are uncropped single exposures, tested on Nikon D800 with a SB400 Speedlite and a DIY flash diffuser unless stated otherwise. Filter and lens hood removed during testing.

    Fungi - DSC_3634
  1. "Giant" Fungi
    A low angled shot captures the background in its entirety, and the clarity of the background gives the impression of a giant mushroom (which were slightly less than 2 inches tall).
    Handheld, 1/50s, F/22, ISO500, single fill flash

  2. Fungi - DSC_3627
  3. "Giant" Fungi
    From an even lower angle, it gives the viewer the perspective of a bug under the mushrooms.
    Handheld, 1/50s, F/22, ISO500, single fill flash

  4. Venus 15mm Macro Test : Snail with Marina Bay Sands - DSC_2738
  5. Snail with Marina Bay Sands in the background
    Handheld, 1/10s, F/22, ISO800, single fill flash

  6. Ornamental tree trunk spider (Herennia sp.) - DSC_3618
  7. Ornamental tree trunk spider (Herennia sp.)
    Handheld, 1/25s, F/22, ISO800, single fill flash

  8. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_3407
  9. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)
    Handheld, 1/25s, F/22, ISO400, single fill flash

  10. Red tent spider (Cyrtophora unicolor) - DSC_3473
  11. Red tent spider (Cyrtophora unicolor)
    Handheld, 1/13s, F/32, ISO400, single fill flash

  12. Perspective correction with lens shift - DSC_2679_compare
  13. Marina Bay Sands - Perspective correction with lens shift
    Perspective correction with lens shifting is nothing new, but always welcome for architectural photography. A very nice bonus, given that any lens with the capability to shift will tend to cost a lot more than this one!

  14. DSC_3811_shiftminus
  15. Singapore residential building - Perspective correction with lens shift
    Another example of perspective correction shot from a high position.

Lens Build

Weighing at just 410g, this lens a small chunk of solid metal. It comes with a lens hood, but it would typically not be used when shooting close-ups.

The focusing ring is damped and smooth, but the aperture ring is not damped and smooth without stops.

The shift mechanism is not easy to adjust - there is no way to lock the shift at precise positions except at 0mm and the extremities. With enough practice, it should be easy to handle.

Performance

Image quality is excellent in the middle of the photo and deteriorates at the corners on a full frame sensor. The following tests were made by shooting a fine-grid paper (approximately 2.4 squares per mm) lighted from behind.

Image Quality and Diffraction

Diffraction test - DSC_3665_max_center
At 1:1, image quality is excellent in the center of the image. Diffraction is very well controlled, creeping in very slightly at F/22, and showing marked deterioration at F/32. F/16 and F/22 would be good aperture settings to use for the best image quality and most detail in the background.

Distortion

DSC_3778_distortion
Distortion is apparent at close distances, but should be easily corrected in post-processing.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration (CA) is not very obvious at non-macro focusing distances, but shows up distinctly when we get closer to the subject. CA is a common problem with wide angle lenses focusing at close distances and not unexpected. CA correction techniques are available in post-processing which I will be trying out in the next post.

Technical Specifications


Venus Optics LAOWA 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro
Focal Length15 mm
Maximum ApertureF/4
Minimum ApertureF/32
Angle of View110 degrees (Full Frame) 85 degrees (APS-C)
Format CompatibilityFull Frame
Available MountsCanon EF, Nikon F, Sony Alpha A, Sony E & Pentax K mounts
Shift (for APS-C sensors only) +/- 6 mm
Lens Structure12 elements in 9 groups
High Refractive Elements x 3pcs
Extra-low Disperson Elements x 1pc
Aperture Blades14
Min. Working Distance4.7 mm (1:1)
Max. Magnification Ratio1:1
Auto FocusNone
Aperture ControlNone
Filter Size77 mm
Dimensions83.8 x 64.7 mm
Weight410 g


Conclusion


ProsCons
  • Able to focus from 1:1 to infinity without extension tubes
  • Excellent image quality
  • Well controlled diffraction up to F/22
  • Small and light for an ultra-wide angle
  • Lens shift - for subjects above eye level
  • Affordable price
  • No automatic aperture control
  • Chromatic aberration at the corners
  • Large lens diameter, challenging to approach and illuminate subjects
  • Obvious barrel distortion


The Venus Optics LAOWA 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro lens delivers well on its promise to photograph small subjects with a very wide depth of field. 1:1 is an unpractical magnification for wide-angle field work due to the short working distance of 4.7mm, but it gets more manageable at 1:2 and wider. Being a manual lens, focusing at stopped down apertures becomes exceptionally challenging, but this is a problem faced by every other wide-angle macro solution out there and resolved with either live view or manually stopping down the aperture after focusing wide open.

Despite the limitations which are expected in any current wide-angle macro setup, this lens has surpassed my expectations and has earned a permanent spot in my camera bag. I'm looking forward to demonstrating it in my upcoming Borneo Bootcamp! For more updated photos from this lens, visit my photo album on Facebook.

The launch price of this lens is $479USD, inclusive of international shipping. Readers of this blog may use the discount code SGMACRO to get a 5% discount from the purchase of this lens at venuslens.net.

Please leave your comments below should you have any questions regarding this lens and I'll be happy to answer them.